How much is this gonna cost?

The answer? It depends…

If you’re beginning to plan for your next construction project, figuring out your design and permitting costs certainly should be an item on your to-do list. Here are some tips to help you get the answers you need to plan for your project.

Don’t assume…

Getting an estimate from a civil engineer early on is a wise planning move…don’t just plunk in a nice round number into your budget spreadsheet for “engineering”. Usually that number is based upon how much you hope the design costs will be, which may or may not be grounded in reality. Regulations for stormwater management have been steadily tightening over the past decade, so the design and permitting costs have risen along with the increased effort. Depending on the type of project you’re starting, design and permitting can not only be a significant cost item, but will likely control the project schedule as well. This is not something that you will want to guess at…

What’s included?

The first thing I do when creating a fee estimate for a project is figure out what tasks I’ll need to perform for that particular project. No two projects are alike, so I can’t just take the last project I did, change the name and date and send it out again. It takes a little bit of time to review the project location, research the local ordinances and talk to local officials, but this upfront work is important to understanding what it will take to get where we want to go. A good engineering proposal will outline exactly what tasks will be performed and which approvals will be needed. Getting this right is half the battle.

What’s not included?

Of course, some tasks are NOT needed for every project. These tasks will not be included in the price that you’re given, so you’ll want to make sure you understand what is being excluded. Some things that should be clarified: is geological testing included? If so, who is supplying the excavation equipment for those tests? Is a new survey needed? Are meetings included in the cost? What about resubmissions to review agencies? Does the fee include mileage, prints and reproductions? What construction services are included? One other thing that I often do is calculate the application fees that the owner should expect to pay to the municipality, the County or the State. These fees can really add up and you’ll want to include them in your budget.

Cost structure

One other important consideration is how you’ll want to structure the agreement with your engineer. There are typically two different ways that the agreement can be structured – 1) as a lump sum agreement or 2) as a time and materials agreement. For a lump sum, the engineer will provide you with a cost based upon the tasks that they think are needed to complete the job. Unless additional tasks are added, you’ll pay that cost – no matter how many hours it takes the engineer. With a time and materials contract, the engineer still will give you an hourly rate and an estimated cost based upon the tasks needed. But then you’ll only pay for the number of hours they spend on your project. If they get it done faster, you pay less…if it takes longer than they thought, you pay more. There are pros and cons for each arrangement that could take up a whole other article, but knowing which one you’re agreeing to is important.

Unfortunately, as I mentioned in a previous post, estimating how much our design fees will be is not exactly the strength of most civil engineers. But if everyone asks the right questions and there is good communication between you and your engineer, that should go a long way to help avoid the nasty surprise bill at the end of the job. The ultimate goal is for you to have a great project where you not only enjoy the end product that is constructed, but also the process that got you there. That’s part of what being designed for community is all about!


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